Years ago, when I went through a somewhat half-hearted vegetarian phase, the only meat I really missed was bacon. That gorgeous smoky salty tang; that crispy forbidden unhealthy bliss. Not that I ever ate that much of it in the first place, but the thought that I’d never taste it again teased and provoked me. And, of course, good bacon also has a simply heavenly fragrance – unlike coffee and cigarettes it really does taste as good as it smells. Now we are told by our masters that we might as well eat a slice of asbestos as a cured back rasher. Why is it that this ultimate warning does not put me off?
Nostalgia for bacon goes back a long way. My father made a habit of a fried breakfast, all his life. This was forbidden to us tots; though Pa sometimes fed us surreptitiously from his plate, like dogs, with bacon rind and morsels of golden fried bread. Then I’d be packed off to a kind neighbour who gave me a lift into school with his own son. This little family was always tucking into eggs and bacon when I arrived: the mother was a nurse and she evidently had no inhibitions as to the universal benefit of the family fry pan. Maybe I looked envious or disapproving at the spectacle of their fatty feast; for whatever reason, I was set to wait in another room still cocooned in my belted gaberdine mac¤ until they had finished. Whereupon all of us, in a shimmering haze of grease and richly fried-up from one source or other, set forth for Town in the Lancia. People did smell of their breakfasts in those days: all my teachers certainly did. Perhaps the liberal use of lard & dripping had something to do with this.
Later on, boarding school bacon was hardly recognisable as such: being cut egregiously thin and scant, infallibly served glued to the pan and swimming in fat. A happier association was the use of bacon rind as bait to catch crabs when on Suffolk coastal holidays. This pastime has now become a massive local jamboree, but 55 years ago it was just a few small fry fishing from a wooden bridge. We’d tie the scraps of meat to a stone or a skewer, and lower the titbit on the end of a string into the salty creek which flowed to the sea through the mud flats. The bacon fat would get all over our (very irresistibly lickable) hands and clothes; the ravenously carnivorous green, orange and brown crabs went crazy for it and could be hauled up from the depths in clusters as they gorged. I can smell it all now; the blowy windy wet afternoon, salt air, muddy ooze, thick damp woollen jumpers, seaweed like strings of yellow sultanas.
At the end of the day the buckets of crabs all went back into the sea. But whether at home or on vacation we might well have a proprietary crab paste for tea, served on bridge rolls or toast. Sardine, salmon or bloater pastes were all good too. These spreads came in tiny glass jars which looked as though they’d be useful for something afterwards. Each pot was closed with a gold ring and red rubber seal. The rings should have been ideal for some form of dressing-up jewellery but they were uncommonly sharp-edged and after many cuts and abrasions we reluctantly gave up on sartorial recycling. The red rubber also looked handy, if only to fiddle with – but you could never quite wash out the fishy smell. The frustrations of paste jars! Do modern children suffer so?
Nowadays, the height of my gustatory desire is a Cromer crab for tea – or indeed for any meal. Providing, of course, it’s as fresh as paint – then the scent is faint and mouthwatering: the redolence of ice and lemon and mayonnaise and luscious crustacean. A touch of fragrant pepper – black, white or red – and a chilled drink. Does any drink smell as delicious on a summer day as a Bloody Mary? Goes good with crab. Absolute bliss. Serve outdoors under a shady tree, and hand the buttered brown bread separately: “Which one of you is the dressed crab?” I’m always glad when we have a really cold winter because the crabs in the North Sea thrive on it and the icy water encourages them to breed like mad.
Funny to think of bacon and crabs getting into perfume but they do just a little, around the edges. Many modern leather scents smell slightly savoury to me; faintly smoky, mildly bacony where they used to be suggestively fruity. Snuff the scent of mortal change in LONESTAR MEMORIES, Andy Tauer’s evocation of night on the Texas border, the scent of the plains lit by an icy moon. Coffee brewing on a hickory wood camp fire; tobacco smoke; the seasoned oiled leather of boots and saddles; the smell of dry forests and the grasses: and there – right at the back – the hint of bacon and beans on the night wind. Fabelhaft!
I do recall that someone was going on recently about a note of crab¤ in a scent. I can’t exactly remember which…can you?… but our dear old friend calone, the molecule which structures so many aquatic perfumes, is often said to have an oyster quality about it: the minerality of salty flaky blue-grey shells as well as the succulent pearly flesh of the mollusc. James Heeley’s SEL MARIN has a delicious whiff of rock pools and clean seaweed – endless expanses of shimmering wet sands in the morning sun. And I am told that the curiously named Mugler creation WOMANITY has a caviar accord; though to me the appeal of caviar is all in the texture and the sound, the delicate cracking and fragile crunching of those dear wee eggs.
Last word goes to bacon: why on these grey wet windy days can I smell it on a rural wind, especially when I’m feeling a little stressed? Is bacon the new burned toast?”
¤ now, these navy-blue regulation coats had a very odd smell indeed – which for some reason made me long to taste the material. But licking gaberdine made my skin crawl – the old chalk on a blackboard effect.
¤¤ or even crab sticks…?